Reeve Rob Ford

I take no solace in the wilderness. Small towns strike me as neither quaint nor cozy. If they were so great, why aren’t more people living in them? There’s life enough for me in the city where I live and those that I like to visit.

So it was as much a surprise to me as it would be to anyone that I found myself on the shores of Lake Erie this Thankgiving weekend with a friend I had not seen in sometime. How had such a turn of events come about you ask? Well, with barely a warning, ___________ showed up atop his brand new Honda Gold Wing cruising bike on Friday a.m., wanting to take me for a ride. Initially I demurred, having not been on a motorcycle since an ill-fated trip through Morocco sometime during my undergraduate years. But the bike was big and shiny, and I had no particular plans this long weekend. The weather was supposed to be glorious. If not now, when?

___________ and I had become acquainted when he appeared at my high school for a couple years there in the middle. He had a brilliant mind, effortlessly understanding the more complicated regions of math, physics and chemistry. Probably not coincidentally, he also had an affinity for mind altering substances, the more exotic the better. It was clear even back then that there was going to be a battle waged between academia and narcotics for ___________’s heart and mind.

Over the course of the next ___ years, he would flit in and out of my life. At times I was never sure how exactly he discovered my whereabouts, only adding to his mystique. That, and the fact he was always very circumspect about what he was doing for a living. Weapons development (including biological). Alternative energy research. The last time we chatted, he’d talked fondly of MBSs and CDOs which, when I questioned him about over pie on a break from the ride, he smiled either grimly or smugly, I couldn’t judge, and said, “High finance is not for the meek. And I’ve dealt with anthrax, buddy.”

How this all relates to you and this site comes from the Friday night of my trip. We wound up in the little lakeside hamlet of Port Stanley at a friend of __________’s. Let’s call him __________2; an organic farmer who, when I asked what he farmed, smiled a similar smile I’d seen on the face of __________ when I asked about his role in the financial crisis. Part of me wondered if this whole trip had been planned to make me the fall guy for whatever it was these two were involved with. But that was probably just the paranoid stage I was experiencing at the time.

We’d finished a delicious dinner cooked by __________2’s live-in cook, an elderly gentleman hailing from Japan, and were sitting around, watching the news. __________2’s satellite system piped in a news feed from Toronto with an item featuring Rob Ford’s press conference earlier in the day where he further attempted to outline his economic plan if elected mayor. I had been enjoying an election-free few hours and was hoping that the story would pass unremarked upon as I just didn’t feel up to getting into all the gory details. Alas, it was not to be.

“Toronto’s going to elect that dude to be its mayor?” _________ asked. First, I was caught off guard realizing that there were people out there who weren’t aware of our situation, who hadn’t been following along to every twist and turn in our municipal campaign. Rob Ford had even made it onto the front cover of last week’s Macleans magazine. This must be national news.

Recovering from my deflated sense of place, I then had to admit that, yes, there was a good possibility Rob Ford might be elected mayor. It wasn’t a done deal but there would be no surprise if it came to pass. Silence ensued and it looked as if that was going to be the extent of the conversation. It was a couple stories afterwards before __________2 piped in on the topic.

“That Ford guy doesn’t look like a big city mayor. He looks like a county reeve.”

It turns out that __________2 hails originally from Dutton, Ontario, a farming community some 35 kilometres inland from Port Stanley. He explains that a reeve is similar to the mayor’s position but for sparsely populated counties. “Interesting fact,” he sidetracks. The word ‘sheriff’ is derived from the term ‘shire reeve’.”

“From my understanding,” he went on to explain, “reeve positions were mostly taken by the dumbest sons from the more prominent local families. The ones most likely to hurt themselves or somebody else on the farm. They’d send them off basically just to occupy their time and be front men for the family’s interests.”

Both _________ and _________2’s cook laughed. I wasn’t sure if I was being fucked with. Some down home, rural humour I had no way of plugging into.

“Yeah, these Elgin county folks,” _________2 continued, “they used to spit out farmboys in droves, each looking just like the previous one but a little bit dumber.”

“Like Multiplicity,” ________2’s cook piped in. A reference neither ________ nor ________2 seemed to get as they turned back to watching the news without comment. ________2 started up his story again after a bit.

“By the fourth or fifth son, man, they were flat out stupid and if they stayed around the farm, inevitably something or someone got chewed up and spit out by the combine harvester that shouldn’tve. Or they cut off somebody’s ankles with a scythe. Usually their own. Fell through the barn roof and onto a prized dairy cow, breaking its back and having to put it down.”

At which point the three of us turned to stare at him, convinced we were all now being screwed with. Evidently not.

“Oh yeah. Elgin County. The Twin Peaks of southern Ontario. The tales of misadventure I could tell you…”

We then turned back to watch the news on TV and the start of a very odd Thanksgiving weekend.

And there you have it. Rob Ford, For Reeve of Toronto.

rurally submitted by Urban Sophisticat

On A Midnight Train To Beijing

A definite theme of this trip is beginning to emerge.

Sitting on the overnight train to Beijing from Nanjing, I can’t help thinking that I am a member of a society on the decline. If the 20th-century belonged to America (one in which we’d hitched a ride on the coattails of), things are most definitely not trending that way in this one.

I mean, come on! Here we are on what is a regular high speed train route, covering 1,100+ kilometres, in relatively comfortable if cramped quarters, as a simple matter of fact. At least, I assume it’s matter of fact based on the ease with which our two Chinese, non-English speaking cabin mates share their bottle of clear, solvent tasting but with a hint of blue cheese liquor with us. They regale us with grand stories of adventure, I assume, given their reaction to the tales they tell. We all sleep like babies until I stumble out to the bar car a couple of hours before arriving in Beijing in order to take in the passing scenery.

At home this kind of trip is treated as a novelty. Train travel as a throwback to an earlier time; something to do when you’ve run out of other vacation options. A relic of the past that has no real bearing on the future.

A side blurb in a Macleans magazine issue last month talked of China’s negotiations with 17 Asian and European countries to develop high speed train travel traversing the two continents, culminating in a Beijing to London link over some 8,100 kilometres in 48 hours. And we can’t even get our shit together enough to come up with a comprehensive plan to build a modern rail system throughout the GTA and Golden Horseshoe region. No, diesel does not qualify as a comprehensive plan, people. It’s merely indicative of small-minded, short-sighted thinking and a lack of leadership and balls. (The emerging theme for those who just tuning in.)

Oh sure, I hear you mumbling out there, a half a day behind me, we could be all out on the forefront and cutting edge too if we gave over to authoritative, autocratic rule. Making the trains run on time is easy if you set aside democracy. If China’s so great, why don’t you just move there, you slavering, pandering, useful idiot Sinophile? (Huh. A passing side thought. If you’re a fan of Chinese movies, does that make you a Sinocinephile?)

You know that’s not what I’m having you suggest I’m suggesting. It is far from perfect here. Even ignoring the political reality for a moment, China is still very much a developing country in many, many aspects. It is dirty, polluted and does consume an ever increasing amount of the world’s resources although it does seem to realize that and is investing heavily in alternate sources of energy to a much larger extent than we are in the west. There is a sense that by watching the emergence of China we are being offered a glimpse through the window of what our very own industrial revolution might’ve looked like. It is a very relevant question of whether or not China is attempting to sustain what is not sustainable.

But this is not about China. It is about us, the former masters of the universe, the west in which the sun is very much threatening to set upon. We are being eclipsed not because of imbalances in trade or democratic principles. We have simply lost our way, locked as we are in a useless and unimaginative ideological either-or standoff. Money, and the accumulation of it, has replaced vision and grand dreams of progress and enlightenment. There is an assumption of superiority on our part owing to the fact that we have already overcome the battles China is now waging. Been there, done that. We are waiting for greatness to return, assuming somehow that it is our birthright. This is how it shall be for it has always been thus.

History doesn’t work like that. It is largely trial and error, learning from our mistakes and adapting to new and varied environments. Past success does not guarantee future success. In fact, as we who once were giants might slowly be realizing, resting on our laurels is the surest, quickest way to find ourselves standing at the back of the que as the rest of the world blows on past us faster than, well, a high speed train on its way to Beijing.

wistfully submitted by Urban Sophisticat